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Arts & Entertainment Preview - December 2000
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A & J O H N I S T E L
In the Subconscious With Sendak
In the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker—adapted from the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale and choreographed by Kent Stowell, one of the PNB's artistic directors—the master of ceremonies in the magical kingdom of the second act is a rather fabulous-looking Pasha (who, being the same dancer, closely resembles the odd godfather Herr Drosselmeier of the first act). There could be nothing more appropriate than this enchanting host instead of a Sugar Plum hostess, for the actual magician of this marvelous production is that magnificent mensch from Brooklyn, Maurice Sendak, who designed the sets and costumes. No one in all of children's literature better understands the dark fascination with things that go bump in the night, and no one better illustrates the peculiar and disturbing power of dreams that are realer than real. Always with Sendak one has the creepy sense that the land of nightmares exists in the continuous now—past, present, and future are one and the same. He knows just the color and clarity of a night spent wandering in the subconscious. Therefore, unlike some Nutcrackers, this production makes clear that the little girl who is the heroine is indeed dreaming and is not in some sweet yet scary alternate universe. On Christmas Eve, Sendak shows us, everyone is a child, and everyone dreams. (December 2-27 at the Seattle Center Opera House; call 206-441-9411.) —N.D.
King of the Hill
There's one living playwright whose press clippings include comparisons to Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill, Shakespeare, and Sophocles. That playwright is August Wilson. The irony is that Wilson, who is fifty-five, dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and won the first of his two Pulitzers (for
Fences, in 1987) without having studied any canonical dramatists. Influenced by the black-power movement, he purposefully avoided European influences as he began to chronicle African-American life in the twentieth century via a ten-play cycle, one drama per decade. The eighth, set in 1985, is King Hedley II, which premiered last December in Pittsburgh and this month arrives at one of Wilson's artistic homes, Chicago's Goodman Theatre, to christen a new performance complex. The Shakespearean reach of King Hedley II is evident both in the title and in the fascination with characters who battle fate and patrimony. Of course, the royalty here are residents from the Hill District, the Pittsburgh neighborhood where Wilson grew up, and the power struggles aren't over crowns and thrones but survival in Reagan-era America. The eponymous character—named "King" by his mother so that whites would have to address him with respect—is selling stolen refrigerators and dreaming of opening a video store (see Willy Loman). It's not clear to King who his father is, and his blindness to his past partly accounts for the play's violent end (see Oedipus). Suprisingly, some criticized early productions for O'Neill-like "faults": epic vision, heroic themes, flowering lyricism in the language, the audacity to indulge it all. (Call 312-443-3800.) —J.I.
|From King Hedley II |
The Future of Movement
Elizabeth Streb's eponymous company isn't being billed as dance in some venues. The vivid troupe called STREB exists on its own turf—where the vertical meets the horizontal, a wall can be a floor, and down can be up. Nonetheless, this work represents the very essence of dance: movement for its own sake. By exaggerating, or at least not suppressing, what choreographers traditionally try to conceal—preparation, effort, danger—Streb shows how truly thrilling the body in motion can be. Her work is the opposite of make-believe, yet it also differs from, say, Olympic gymnastics or going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. It contains a philosophy, and the possibility for metaphor. Not for nothing has Streb used her MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" to study math and read philosophy. With her new show, ActionHeroes, she has invented a genuinely public art form: highly accessible, highly intelligent, intensely visceral, completely in the here and now. And no audience relates to the unpredictability of Streb's imagination better than children; kids take to this brand of theater with no introduction necessary. (That STREB's endeavors show men and women as equal partners in grace and daring is an additional satisfaction.) When the performers, harnessed to bungee cords, leap from tall towers to dance upside down in midair, you suddenly know what the future of movement is. When we live in space, this is how we will dance. STREB performs this month at the Moore Theatre, in Seattle (December 7-10; call 206-292-2787), and at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, in Portland, Oregon (December 13; call 503-242-1419). —N.D.
| STREB dancers going|
Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.
John Istel is the editor-in-chief of Stagebill.
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Photo Credits—The Nutcracker: Ben Kerns. King Hedley II: Craig Schwartz. STREB: Alex Tehrani.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.